If today’s match were on a movie poster, the tagline might be: Brazil v Italy. Attack v defence. Jogo bonito v Catenaccio. Good v evil. Brazil are, depending on your preferred metaphor, playing football from the future or playing a different sport altogether. Of the 12 goals they have scored in four consecutive wins, nine have been genuine belters. They have soundtracked España 82 with the unfettered joy of samba beats. (Literally, as their fans give it plenty.) The world has fallen hopelessly in love, our hearts beating to every jazzy syncopation.
Italy have engaged one of the other senses. Thus far their clunking, ersatz form of catenaccio has stunk the place out. They were lucky to get through the group stage without winning a single game. And although they were better in beating Argentina 2-1 six days ago, only their third win in the last 15 games, would you believe, that victory was down to well-rationed counter-attacks and Claudio Gentile’s man-marking job on Diego Maradona – not so much a case of persistent fouling as occasional non-fouling. There has been no great attacking fluency. And yet, for all that, in two hours’ time, Italy could be in the semi-finals ahead of Brazil.
The scenario is simple: Italy need a win, Brazil a draw. It is a nicely contradictory state of affairs – the attacking side need the draw, the defensive side the win – but you would still expect both sides to assume their usual roles. Not least because of the performances of both teams so far have been like extreme archetypes. Most people feel that Italy have two chances today – and slim is unavailable through suspension.
If they do pull it off, the childhood discoveries about Santa and the Tooth Fairy will have nothing on the distress that will envelop the watching world of football. I wouldn’t worry too much. Based on everything we’ve seen so far, this movie is surely going to have a happy ending
Kick off is at 5.15pm in Barcelona on 5 July 1982, 8pm in London on 21 April 2020.